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International pressure mounts over IDP camp conditions

Muslim refugees rest at Baw Du Pha refugee camp in Sittwe, Rakhine State, western Myanmar (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

By Kayleigh Long 
Myanmar Times
January 03, 2014

Pressure is mounting for the Myanmar government to ensure full humanitarian access to the Taung Paw IDP camp in Rakhine State’s Myebon Township, with several international bodies decrying the conditions within the camp as “inhumane”.

A joint statement issued on December 30 by the European Union delegation, along with the embassies of Switzerland, Turkey and the United States, has pointed to the “dire humanitarian situation” faced by the camp’s 752 resident families.

Chief among the concerns outlined were the poor living conditions within the camp, including a lack of safe drinking water, limited healthcare services, widespread malnutrition, and the restriction of access beyond camp bounds.

The detrimental impact of the movement restrictions imposed on those in the camp were singled out by UN human rights special rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana in February 2013, during a press conference at the conclusion of his visit.

“The Government also needs to address the issue of freedom of movement of people in these camps. Taung Paw camp in Myaybon Township felt more like a prison than a camp. People need to be given greater freedom of movement to engage in economic activity, such as trade and fishing, and to access education and obtain healthcare”, Quintana said.

In July 2013, the World Food Programme (WFP) outlined similar concerns, stating that movement restrictions meant camp residents relied almost entirely on aid.

“IDPs have become almost entirely dependent on outside assistance, such as the monthly food rations that WFP has provided to the displaced since June [2013]”, the WFP report read.

The December 30 embassies statement pointed to improved security and an easing of restrictions on international health workers in the camps as measures that could pave the way to improved living conditions.

“The international community calls for increased security to allow camp residents to safely move in and out of the camp, in order to ensure their access to markets and livelihoods, and for international health workers to be allowed to spend the night in camps to increase healthcare access”, the statement said.

A 2013 UNHCR report on critical shelter needs in the region put the Taung Paw camp’s population at 3,900 – the vast majority of which came following the second wave of deadly sectarian violence, in October 2012.

The joint statement from the embassies and EU delegation also highlighted concerns that humanitarian activities in the camp are being hampered by some residents of the Myebon district.

“The international community has received credible reports that local community members in Myebon towship have harassed humanitarian staff and impeded access for humanitarian supplies to the people in need in Taung Paw camp. These actions are unacceptable’, the statement read.

Representatives of the embassies behind the statement say they remain unconvinced by the publicly-stated intentions of local, state and Union-level government groups to allow unimpeded humanitarian access.

“Union-level and local officials alike have publicly vowed to enforce this principle without delay. Despite these promises, we have yet to see effective action. The international community urges authorities to ensure humanitarian access immediately and without further delay to allow aid to reach those in desperate need, and take immediate and firm action against responsible individuals, including those who seek to block humanitarian aid and intimidate, harass, or harm humanitarian workers”.

The groups emphasised their willingness to cooperate with government on an issue they say is of “utmost importance” to regional stability and progress.

“Development assistance and inward investment to Rakhine State, for the benefit of all communities, will only come when situations like that in Myebon are adequately addressed.”